West Vale — The Rise and Fall of Two Towers

First Choice Homes Oldham collaborated with local residents of the West Street Area in Coldhurst, Oldham, to create an online ‘place history’ platform to celebrate the 50-year period and beyond of two tower blocks: Summervale House and Crossbank House (1975 – 2022). This digital community project created a digital archive with a focus on time; enabling the local community to collaboratively research and share their local heritage while building their digital skills.

Black and white photo of two tower blocks
Screenshot from The Towers, Oldham website

West Vale — The Rise and Fall of Two Towers

This is ‘how to use digital tools to support collaboration’ guide was produced as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Connected Heritage programme.

1. Project background

First Choice Homes Oldham (FCHO) is a Housing Association in Oldham, Greater Manchester that manages around 11,500 properties in the borough of Oldham. For this project, FCHO has worked in partnership with Oldham Coliseum, OL1 Community Group, and Oldham Local Archives & Geeks for Social Change.

A survey circulated in 2020 found that residents felt there was little connection to the area. In addition, we also found that digital literacy was low and that heritage may be a positive way to promote digital inclusion.

We wanted to collaborate with local residents to create an online ‘place history’ platform to celebrate the 50-year period and beyond of two tower blocks that stood in the Coldhurst area of Oldham until the demolition of the buildings in 2022.


2. Users and needs

Who participated in the collaboration?

Residents in the Coldhurst area and other residents from around the Oldham area who had previously lived and worked in the area surrounding the two tower blocks. All our participants were adults.

Did you need to provide any special support to enable participants to collaborate?

  • No previous digital skills were required, and support was available to learners of all levels and experience.
  • Participants could choose whether they wished to use it on a project desktop computer or on their own laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
  • Specialist tech support was provided to help participants develop their skills to use their own devices.
  • Community group volunteers required an existing knowledge of different versions of computer software and tablet on both android and IOS devices in order to support participants with IT related questions


3. Digital technology and tools

We used a variety of tools including:

  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Microsoft Word
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Documents Folder
  • Various Email platforms including outlook, Gmail,
  • Google Documents.

We provided Dell Desktop Computers and supported participants to use IT equipment they owned and brought to the session. We found this was a vital approach to provide support on equipment that participants would use in their own time at home.



The approach had no cost. We based our digital skills courses in an FCHO owned community centre which is home to an IT Suite. Other items used were received through donations of old technology received by members of staff.


4. Project stages


  • We took steps to make the digital skills sessions approachable by hosting them in an area close to the focus of the project and were able to support transport costs for taxis if required.
  • We ensured all safeguarding aspects, ethics and permissions were met.
  • We ensured we had digitally confident volunteer support that could tackle issues and provide support.
  • Planned to use heritage websites and project website information in all tasks with residents including searching tasks for participants wanting to learn to navigate the internet.
  • Accessible marketing for the target audience, this included leaflet delivery to the houses in the area focused in the project.


  • Recorded Resident Engagement. This was done through marking session attendance and noting how attendees heard about the session.
  • We made the sessions as inclusive as possible by asking residents to fill in a questionnaire before their first session to allow us to tailor tasks to everyone.
  • Maintain a focus on collaboration by teaching a variety of ways to share resources, via email, text and shared documents
  • Asked participants to share created heritage, email and any examples, such as PowerPoint slides, through to the session leader.


  • Creating saved copies of shared heritage.
  • Saving email exchanges which document collaboration.
  • Document notes following sessions about questions asked and areas covered.
  • Start and end point survey documenting participants confidence in using programmes and devices.

What were the wider outcomes?

The wider outcomes included engaging participants in heritage activity, building a knowledge of the history of the area and developing online skills and engage with the local community

By planning the sessions in the manner we did, we allowed residents to work together to research heritage, save and send the information via email and store this in a word/ PowerPoint document. This included pictures of the local area and paragraphs of information which were correctly referenced.

In addition to this, we aimed to create community engagement which has been a success with a small group formed from the digital skills courses, who have given feedback on other areas of service.


5. Key learnings

Being as open as possible with the learning platform

We found that learners being able to choose what they wanted to focus on helped engagement and created positive collaboration between participants who were interested in each other’s activities.

Set regular tasks

Setting regular tasks based on areas where we had supported participants was also important to develop skills and include skills learnt in previous weeks. For example asking residents to save or send a document or picture they had found.


6. Key challenges

Low engagement from residents

This may be caused by uncertainty of the offer of the course. We found it important to engage in conversation with potential participants at the recruitment stage.


7. Useful links

Browse related resources by smart tags:

Collaboration Community engagement Digital Digital archive
Published: 2023

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "West Vale — The Rise and Fall of Two Towers (2023) by First Choice Homes Oldham supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


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